Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy New Year!

I’ll be back to regularly posting tomorrow. I have a post on the labor market I’m editing right now, but it being new years and all… 

Here’s to revolution in March! 

links roundup

Dennis Kosuth reviews the general body count of life under capitalism for the Socialist Worker.

Tel Aviv University objecting to supporting settler-run dig, mainly due to fear of a cultural and educational boycott.

New York Times reports on class’s role in education success. Well gosh, who’d have thought?

Anyone care to guess how many children Israel arrested this year? It’s 900. 

Interesting story in Counterpunch on how Rupert Murdoch quite boldly tried to buy the US Presidency in 2012. 

 

friday funday

It’s even better when you have a job..

links roundup

James Mollison takes a look at childhood bedrooms from nine different countries for Mother Jones.

Sarah Leonard explores the ramifications and meaning of Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo! and a pregnant mother who works 160 hour weeks for The Jacobin.

Amanda Marcotte of Salon explores the scandal of the Good Men Project publishing rape stories – from the rapist’s perspective.

An oldie but new for me (I don’t have a subscription to the NYT ha): Steven Greenhouse reports on the rising tide and tribulations of our growing American army of part time employees. 

Īáñ Œ Gøødrüm has another take on the holiday film season and it’s throbbing obsession with slavery – both Lincoln and Django.

Rhizzone user “stegosaurus” has transcribed and bound English language versions of the Maoist classic “Selected Essays on the Study of Philosophy by Workers, Peasants and Soldiers” for free. From the editor’s note:

The broad masses of workers, peasants and soldiers have written excellent essays telling how they study and apply Chairman Mao’s philosophic thinking in their revolutionary struggle. The nine selected here are only a small part. They are factual and reason things out, are pungent in style and set forth a clear-cut point of view. Vividly reflecting on the rich gains of China’s workers, peasants and soldiers from living study and application of Chairman Mao’s philosophic thinking, they are eloquent proof that workers, peasants and soldiers should and can master philosophy, and thus declare total bankruptcy for the fallacy that “philosophy is mysterious.”

Download here: PDF || EPUB || MOBI 

Was 2012 really the best year ever?

 

The Christmas issue of the conservative Spectator magazine featured an article titled “Why 2012 was the best year ever”, offering up positive news about the state of things in 2012. According to the article, there is more prosperity and less people dying worldwide now thanks to global capitalism. People are dying less from malaria and AIDS, inequality is dipping and the developing world is booming. Politicians, meanwhile, are a bunch of pessimists, jealous of the free market’s success where government programs have presumably failed. The Spectator offers that the reason why we weren’t popping champagne when the Millennium Goal to halve extreme poverty was met in 2008 was because “it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism”.

I spent a lot of time in graduate school going over the sorts of indicators quoted by the Spectator. The program I attended was a haven for pessimists such as myself, and attending my courses and conducting research made me an even stronger and better-prepared pessimist. Of course, pessimism is out of style. My friends moan and groan about my constant doomsdaying, but the fact of the matter is that I, along with my legion of pessimist like-minders, wouldn’t be in the business of shouting to the skies about impending doom if there wasn’t a leg to stand on. Meanwhile, the status quo has every interest in making things seem like they’re better than ever. This is where loyal magazines such as The Spectator come in handy, working together with recent releases like “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” and “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” to paint rosy views of the future, where life will be improved by buying toys from China and fracking our way out of an energy crisis (here they linked to a BP study, ha ha) – all supplemented by advances in smart phone technology, of course.

Even a pessimist such as myself has to recognize that, worldwide, mortality indicators have improved over the last several decades. Global inequality has eased between countries, and of course, we have all made exciting advances in new technology. My pessimism is actually couched in the deep belief that human potential is far greater than is currently recognized. This is why we should not shy away from the reality of our situation.

Here are some basic facts to consider, though. Things might be getting better, but they are getting better for some far faster than they are getting better for others. For example, taking China and India out of most calculations of global indices changes the numbers completely. Even within China and India, we must admit that calculations can be misleading. China especially has refused to release GINI calculations for over a decade now.  Papers published that measure GINI as meaningfully improving worldwide depend on shoddy data and tilt the numbers to their pleasure. And the real reason why the UN might not have been celebrating the drop in global poverty is because the number of those who are living on less than $2 per day (as opposed to $1 per day) have increased in recent years, and not all of them from the $1 per day crowd. People got poorer, though they middled out at a more acceptable number. Wealth is growing – at the top – and it comes from somewhere. Watching a graph about income growth in the last 10 years, it becomes clear from where this wealth is extracted. Productivity gains are out of the ballpark, the wealth at the top gets more and more massive, and the income levels of those behind the top 10% worldwide generally squeak by just a tiny bit below rates of inflation.  This is the growing income gap.

Of course, it will be argued that – despite lack of strong data – the worldwide GINI has lessened. This is probably true. There are nearly a million millionaires in China now, joined by new millionaires popping up all over the global south. Having a million millionaires will certainly bring your overall standing with other millionaires in other countries closer. However, the GINI index within countries is not improving. Indeed, it’s going down. The spread of millionaires is more fair, perhaps, but the spread of wealth outside of privileged circles is not.

c/o the economist

In countries like Russia, nearly 20% of the GDP is from counting billionaires. If we were to count millionaires in this figure, the number would be far higher worldwide. Growth is coming from spawning new millionaires and billionaires, who are hoovering up productivity gains at the expense of those actually creating wealth.

USA: c/o mother jones

Of course, these “rising standards”, so quickly being hailed as results of the free market by magazines such as The Spectator, are actually the cause of state intervention. The neoliberal reforms of the past three decades have paved the way for this extraction at expense of labor.

So back to the idea that 2012 was better than any year in history: we must ask, by what standards? Mortality has fallen steadily since the dawn of the 20th century, but this less about free market reforms and more about lessening infant mortality rates. It’s not difficult to do this. Fifty cents worth of education can prevent most deaths in infancy, vaccines and basic childcare can do the rest. This is not a trillion dollar project, though there are plenty at the UN who have made a very nice living doing it. Advances in medicine and technology cannot be chalked up to capitalism either. The Soviets were first in space and our own domestic R&D sector is the most subsidized part of the United States government – otherwise known as the defense industry.

It used to be that you could call out a piece of filthy propaganda for what it was. If the Soviets or the Chinese were putting out ridiculous information about how great everything was, nobody felt too bad about calling it out. If the Nazis said life was never better in Germany while the Red Army was beating down their door, we knew it to be horse shit. Yet today, calling out articles such as those in The Spectator or putting down books like Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” is met with groans and rolled-eyes. Our eyes are glued to our smartphones with the world collapsing down around us. Things are actually getting worse for most, though far better for some. Of course, those who are benefiting from the status quo also happen to own all the newspapers, happen to take more part in bankrolling research at universities and also have more influence in government than the guy who is living on $2 a day.

Hat-in-Hand & call for ad-free

Hello all,

I’m starting this blog up again after a long hiatus  I have adblock software on my browser, but I know not everyone does. In the spirit of the season I wanted to ask if anyone browsing this blog would donate towards making it ad-free. The cost is $30 a year and seeing as payroll is behind, due to holidays, I thought there no harm in asking. It might be possible to buy credits through the store.. otherwise, I swear to god I’ll spend the $30 on getting rid of ads.

Red salute!
T

Reviewing “The Wives” by A. Popoff: The Russian Woman and Other Stories

Screen shot 2012-12-26 at 5.50.31 PM

I picked up The Wives for free and read it in two days. As a feminist, I’ve always adored women’s histories, and as a fan of Russian literature, I looked forward to reading about the conditions in which some great works were made. Unfortunately, while Alexandra Popoff’s new book “The Wives” started off strong, by the end of the book I felt as though the biographies were too tainted by a nostalgia for patriarchial Russia to take seriously as a work of history. Popoff reviews the lives of Mrs. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Mandelstam, Bulgakov, Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn. While the women start off strong, by the end of the book, figues like Vera Nabokov and Natalya Solzhenitsyn disappear almost completely behind their husbands and a very distracting political bias.

For example, Popoff suggests that Bulgakov, Nabokov and Solzhenitsyn all longed to escape to “the free world” – i.e. America, where at the time lunch counters were still segregated by race and women were not admitted to most universities. She describes the conditions in the Soviet Union as dire indeed, while life in Tsarist Russia seem to be sheltered in a relaxing aristocratic dream haze.

Perhaps most disappointing about this book is the message driven home by Mrs. Solzhenitsyn near the end. Solzhenitsyn was himself a famous defender of the patriarchial Orthodox church, and his wife echoes this nostalgia by saying that “Russian women are more dedicated to their families than in the West” (285).  This dedication extends to living in extreme poverty, emotional abuse, tolerating affairs and even Mandelstam forcing his wife to wear a pacifier in her mouth so as to not “interrupt him” (122). These wives are not focused on for surviving these difficult times; indeed, their accomplishments are only celebrated through those of their husbands. Their dedication to their husbands is what makes them inspirational, and not much else. A woman who types drafts and suggests words is seen as contributor more than one who was keeping the fires burning during difficult times. The greater the writer’s wife, the more slavish her love for him.

It was worth reading for insight into the lives of famous Russian writers, but unfortunately, not so much for insight on their wives. Rather, the woman become one more lens through which we can adore the great men in their lives. This seems to be revisionist, nostalgic nonsense, completely in contradiction with the Russian woman as portrayed by Soviet and even Russian history, a woman who is independent, strong and worth writing about on her own right. The wives portrayed by Ms. Popoff surely have their own stories to tell… unfortunately, they are only revealed in relation to their husbands.